Thousands in London for Queen’s last farewell
The UK is set to come to a virtual standstill today, Monday September 19, as a million people converge on London, in one of the biggest logistical challenges in British history, to pay their last farewell to their beloved Queen Elizabeth. An unprecedented security operation has been mounted to accompany the 2,000 guests expected at the funeral in Westminster Abbey, including some 500 foreign dignitaries, including presidents (among them Malta’s President and Mrs Vella), heads of states and monarchs, planning to attend the funeral.
In a deployment beyond the 2012 London Olympics, hundreds of police officers from other local forces across Britain join London’s Metropolitan police to ensure the expected mourners form an orderly queue along the banks of the River Thames on their way to pay respects to the queen. As of 6 am* (all times Malta time), police enforced total closure to traffic in a series of roads forming part of the funeral’s route.
Monday was marked by the end of the disposal (at 7.30 am) of the kilometre queue of those who were still paying homage to the coffin of the sovereign.
At 12 noon there will then be the funeral in Westminster Abbey, preceded by a last short procession of the bier in a carriage. Then, after the liturgy, a procession by car will take the coffin out of the city, up to Windsor Castle: where Elizabeth II will receive the last tribute from a select representation of guests, before being buried in a very private ceremony in front of only close family members in the chapel of St George, next to Prince Consort Philip.
An exceptional mobilisation of the Transport for London public transport system is in place for today. With 250 extra trains set up for the subway and other urban trains, those in charge are expecting up to one million more passengers on the sidelines of the ceremonies.
Just Saturday, King Charles III received at the palace the heads of Scotland Yard, other police corps and military units lined up on the streets in these days, as well as heads of the Municipality and the emergency services, to thank them and take stock: it is estimated that their commitment has exceeded the record set in place at the 2012 London Olympics.
The royal coffin, which was on display at Westminster Palace in London, will be moved to Westminster Abbey where the state funeral will take place. The procession will begin at 11.35am and the coffin will be placed on a gun carriage towed by 98 naval officers, in a tradition dating back to Queen Victoria’s funeral in 1901.
The procession, followed by the king and members of the British Royal Family, will be led by a band of 200 pipers and drummers from the Royal Air Force to Westminster Abbey Gate at 10.52am.
Although the state funeral service, led by the Dean of Westminster David Hoyle, will begin at 11am, the Abbey’s doors will open three hours earlier to welcome the 2,000 people who have been invited to the event.
While the final list of invitees is being kept secret for security reasons, several heads of state, political representatives and monarchs have already said that they would be attending. These include President Biden, President Macron, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Indian President Droupadi Murmu.
Members of the Belgian, Dutch, Qatari and Saudi royal families will also be present, as well as several hundred anonymous people who were decorated by the queen, including social workers and carers.
After the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s sermon, the Last Post will be sounded, followed by two minutes of silence to be observed in the Abbey and throughout the UK.
The Reveille, national anthem and a lament performed by the queen’s piper will conclude the state funeral service at around noon.
Foreign heads of state and government representatives will then attend a reception hosted by the British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly at Church House, the headquarters of the Church of England, next to Westminster Abbey.
The queen’s coffin will be paraded through the capital to Hyde Park Corner, to the sound of the bells of Big Ben, where it will be loaded into a hearse and driven to Windsor, a town in south-eastern England, some 30km from London.
From 3pm, a new procession, preceded by members of the Royal Cavalry, will cross the ‘Long Walk’ leading to Windsor Castle, the British Royal Family’s famous residence. The Royal Family will then join the procession to St George’s Chapel.
Some 800 guests, including the queen’s personal staff, will attend the service, led by the Dean of Windsor David Conner.
Finally, at 7.30pm, the queen will be laid to rest in a private funeral service held in the presence of the king and members of the Royal Family.
Queen Elizabeth II will be buried with her late husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, in the King George VI Memorial Chapel.
A day ‘people will never forget’
The funeral date has been declared an exceptional national holiday, meaning schools and many workplaces will be closed. Although the UK government has said there is no obligation for individual organisations to cancel events or close venues, many have decided to shutter their doors out of respect.Leading supermarket chains, which normally operate reduced hours on national holidays, will close along with other national retailers, restaurants, coffee chains and gyms. Amazon deliveries will be paused for the morning, McDonalds will close until 5pm and popular pub chain Wetherspoons will only open after the funeral ceremony ends.
Entertainment venues, museums, galleries and tourist sites will also be kept closed, with an exception for around 150 cinemas that will open specifically to screen the funeral for free.
The national postal service will be suspended for the day along with most court hearings and all London Fashion Week shows. Premier League football matches planned for Sunday evening were alsorescheduled.
Flights in and out of London will again be disrupted to ensure a peaceful procession following the funeral from Westminster Abbey to Windsor Castle, where the queen will be buried.
The extent of the closures and cancellations will likely underscore the feeling across Britain that an extraordinary event is taking place. “Many people have felt affected by the death of the queen in some way, but they will be impacted directly by the event on Monday,” Dr Luke Blaxill, a historian of modern Britain at Oxford University, told ‘France 24’. “Even on bank holidays or major public occasions, we are used to a modicum of normal life continuing. But this will clearly be a day that people never forget.”
For most UK residents, Elizabeth II’s funeral will be the only national event in living memory that has caused daily life to pause so completely – with the exception of Covid lockdowns. Only the elderly have childhood memories of similar scenes when the queen’s father, King George VI, died in 1952.